Thursday, June 30, 2011

#11: Blog about the postal strike being over

The postal strike is over and I’m glad it is for rather selfish reasons: I like sending and receiving mail.

I don’t think the way the strike was settled is going to be good in the long run for Canadians, labour and unions. Although I have talked to a few people in the last few weeks who feel no sympathy towards unions, I’m always concerned when capital and political power can so completely trump the concerns of the workers. The Tories are clearly showing that they have little sympathy for the working class – and while the NDPs put up an impressive fight and staged a record-shattering filibuster, the majority government was able to force their agenda through without concessions.

Those concerned about this country’s democracy and labour relations have many reasons to be concerned.

However, all that said, I admit to being selfishly happy the strike is over.

On the first day that our mail delivery was back, I received my master’s degree in the mail. That was nice.

And more importantly, Miya’s sticker club can get going again.

Back before the strike, Miya was invited to join a sticker club which functions along the lines of a basic chain letter: Miya sends a packet of stickers to the child whose name is 1 of 2 on the list. She then moves child #2’s name to the #1 spot, adds her own name at #2 and sends this off to 6 friends. In theory she will receive 36 packets of stickers in the coming weeks.

When I was a kid I remember joining a few chain letters – and while we never got the promised number of letters or whatever else, we were very likely to get at least some responses and that tended to make it all worthwhile.

I’m not sure how many stickers M will actually receive in the end, but even if it is just a few, she’s already having fun with the project – decorating envelopes to mail out with stickers of her own and posting them in the mailbox. She even got to see the mail van come to collect the letters.

So welcome back to our mail carriers and postal workers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

David loses to Goliath

The developers have bought out community groups opposing them in order to secure their 600-unit development plans for the Convent site.

Ashcroft Developments and the opposition community groups have signed a deal to drop their respective appeals with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The community groups had been in opposition to the height and density of the development. Ashcroft’s response was to make an appeal for even greater height and density. This raised the stakes since community groups stood not just to lose their appeal, but to see Ashcroft awarded a decision that would make things even worse.

As part of the settlement, Ashcroft will give the community a $200,000 donation. Knowing the millions Ashcroft stands to gain, this seems a very paltry sum indeed.

The community groups and individuals involved in the appeal will form a non-profit corporation that will administer the money, the purpose of which is not yet determined.

I’m wondering what happens to the money that has been raised thus far by the community in support of these OMB appeals. Part of the fundraising included the sale of lawn-signs with slogans such as ‘Respect Community Plans’ and ‘Just say no to over development’. I contributed funds not only by purchasing a sign, but also though the fundraiser parade I organized – so I feel an obligation to all who came out and who donated to know what will happen to the funds raised by the community as well with the buy-out money offered by Ashcroft.

I’m discouraged about this for several reasons, not the least of which is that Ashcroft gets to go ahead with their plan without, as far as I can tell, any concessions to the community’s concerns about height and density.

I’m also sad for the community which put its hopes and money into local associations who ended up being backed into a corner and forced to make a deal to avoid further losses. Was this indeed the best course of action – accepting small gains instead of risking big losses? There were few options.

In this story, David does not beat Goliath. Goliath is not only 9-stories taller, he has deeper pockets and friends in all the right places.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Responding to blog suggestions

So yesterday I was given some suggestions on what to blog about. Let’s just get some of these out of the way, shall we?

1) How my husband keeps putting holes in his pants does not merit 365 words. It is likely because he, like many men, stuffs his wallet into his pants pocket and before long there is the outline of the wallet, followed by worn edges and small holes. He also has holes in his shorts and his shirts – which I suspect is simply due to the fact that several of these items of clothing are older than most 5th graders.

10) I do not know what to say about ‘whether a Java object is considered reachable by the garbage collector before its constructor is finished’ since I do not understand the statement. I do know that it is in reference to work my husband does, but that I do not understand either.

My daughter says that Daddy’s work is “pushing buttons” so, building on her insight, I will guess that the Java object’s reach-ability or collection or whatever could be considered dependent upon what buttons are pushed. Miya also knows that garbage collectors are men who drive around in big trucks every week - so perhaps Java objects should simply be left out on the curb.

16) I absolutely agree that yesterweek should be added to the common vocabulary. It already has been in our house.

17) I have found no evidence that beavers eat their young. They are exclusively herbivores and live in extended family units with monogamous mate-for-life parents. (D is invited to provide evidence for his alleged argument that beavers do in fact eat their young. I am sceptical.)

20) I will not quit this competition half-way through – although there are plenty of nights when I have been more than tempted and I’m sure there will be many more. I’m still not convinced of the value of this exercise beyond proving that I can make good on one of my impulsive ideas, but I do resolve to see this one through to the end. I already have enough examples of abandoned half-baked projects (i.e. a 30 foot scarf anyone?).

Monday, June 27, 2011

20 blog suggestions from V

Tonight I don’t know what to blog about. This isn’t unusual. So I solicit suggestions from my husband and here’s what he suggests:

1) Blog about how your husband keeps putting holes in his pants.
2) Blog about cricket.
3) Blog about the ending of the water ban in south Ottawa.
4) Blog about the relative densities and smoke points of various types of nut oils.
5) Blog about man and superman in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (and he compliments me on knowing how to spell Nietzsche).
6) Just blog about Superman.
7) Blog about Sudan.
8) Blog about the bike path on Laurier.
9) Blog about our cat, Bacall, “otherwise known as Pope Pointyface, Feline of the Catolics”.
10) Blog about whether a Java object is considered reachable by the garbage collector before its constructor is finished (???)
11) Blog about the postal strike being over.
12) Blog about the proper use of the hyphen versus the em dash.
13) Blog about the life cycle of the spider plant.
14) Don’t blog about the life cycle of the common grouse (“because they are far too common”.)
15) Blog about the cognitive capability of insect swarms.
16) Blog about why ‘yesterweek’ should be a real word (it being frequently used in my daughter’s vocabulary).
17) Blog about whether beavers really eat their young.
18) Blog about the best way to promote vegetable growth by selective pruning.
19) Blog summaries of the first four volumes of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (since the next volume is coming out this summer).
20) Blog about whether saying you could do something, but choose not to – i.e. quitting a race halfway through but arguing that you could have run its entirety – automatically disqualifies you from being able to say you could do it (this is in reference to my repeated suggestion that I quit this blogging challenge on June 30 having proved that I can do it for half a year).

If any of these topics appeal to you, let me know and I will do my best to write to it. If you have other ideas, they are also welcome. This list doesn’t exactly inspire me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another long day

Yesterday was long and my report of it, bleary-eyed. Sorry to say, but you can expect much the same from me tonight.

After a late night and little sleep, it was tough to get up this morning and keep up with my 2 year-old. My mum and I took her to the Children’s Museum – although she mostly wanted to run around outdoors. That was nice, although I perhaps looked like a bit of negligent parent when my daughter would go charging off to an open body of water and I would take a gulp of my coffee and slowly follow after her. I am lucky to be blessed with a cautious child, who upon beating me to said body of water would stop and ask, “Miya touch it?” and if I said no, she would stand and look at it. This is very helpful when one is sleep deprived and would be hard pressed to keep up and snatch a toddler back from jumping into a fountain or river.

In the afternoon I was back at the High Commissioner’s residence for a reception for 350 guests. Keeping that many people in canap├ęs and drinks for a few hours is busy enough that time actually passes very quickly. Thank goodness.

This annual event is one of my favourites – it’s a fundraiser for local women’s shelters with the extra flair of including a fashion and hat show. Standing at the bar, we have ring-side view of the models strutting past in ridiculously high fashion and higher heels.

A local hat maker also attends the event and women can try on a wide variety of hats – like those seen at British weddings or polo matches, not typical Canadian Tilly hats or ball caps. It’s not often that we get to see people sporting purple feathered concoctions and the like on their heads. Makes the event quite fun and festive.

But for all the fun, fashion and festivity, I admit that I am quite wiped, I’ve spent almost a third of the last 30 some on my feet, serving food and beverages, lugging cases of wine, tables and chairs. I am very ready for bed. Apologies and good night.

A long Saturday

It is 1:29 a.m. According to the blogging agreement with V, this blog I am writing now counts as Saturday’s, even if we are in the early hours of Sunday morning, since I have not yet gone to bed. Similarly, although the record-breaking long filibuster debate in the House of Commons ended on Saturday, as long as the debate continued it was still Thursday, June 23rd, in the House of Commons. For the record, it is still Saturday, June 25 here.

And what a long Saturday it has been.

My daughter woke me at 5:30 this morning. Neither V or I could settle her over the next hour, so at 6:30 I begged him to just get up with her for the day. But she was over-tired and very sad, so I spent the next hour holding her so she would be soothed and doze a little in my arms. I had hoped we could both sleep, but I was not so lucky. She slept perhaps 20 minutes. I got a shoulder cramp but not a wink of sleep.

We were out of bed by 8. By around 9 I was working at getting a large tent set up for a dinner for 150 guests. One of the hats I wear is that of a server at the home of the British High Commissioner. Today was the Summer Ball – an annual event for Ottawa’s politicos and upper classes (although all the MP guests did not show given the on-going debate in Parliament).

It’s a fun event to work, although it does make for a very long day. We were setting up for about 4 hours this morning – 22 tables with linens, place settings, chair covers, etc. I came home and had the kind of nap that you wake up from feeling almost more tired than before, had some coffee and got ready to be back for the actual event.

So now, with aching feet and heavy eyes, I come home to find a post-it note saying ‘BLOG...!’ stuck to the door. It would have been tempting to let this one slide, but then I suppose the whole bet would be off. We can’t have that.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Grounded at the airport

Ottawa airport was grounded for a few hours tonight. Apparently ground crews don’t operate during a thunderstorm – such as we’ve been having on and off all day- meaning all departures are delayed and all arrivals have to sit on the tarmac until the storm is over.

When my mum’s flight arrived at 5:10 p.m., passengers were told that there would be a delay of “about 20 minutes”. She wasn’t let off the plane for 3 hours.

Miya and I arrived at the airport around 5:20 and I thought we might be late. But there were a lot of people waiting at the arrivals area, with nobody actually arriving. I spoke with a woman who’d already been waiting over an hour for her friend.

I went to the information desk where the woman took down my mum’s flight number, looked at her computer for awhile, then told me the flight had arrived. This I already knew from reading the display boards. What I wanted to know was when passengers would be let off it.

“Oh, I don’t know that,” she said. That depended on the weather.

Although not very helpful with information, she did give Miya “An Airport to Discover” colouring book and a small box of crayons. That actually was helpful.
Miya and I sat in a restaurant where we could see the planes sitting on the tarmac. The only movement, besides the driving rain, was the occasional drive past of an airport truck. Like watching buns rise.

Luckily my daughter seemed impressed enough with the novelty of the situation – esp. the giant planes outside giant windows. When I told her grandma was stuck on one of those planes she waved at them and hollered, “hi grandma!”

After we’d been waiting over an hour, the power went out in the airport. The back-up generator kicked in right away, but this didn’t seem to be a good sign. Thunder was still rolling outside and the downpour hadn’t slowed. It was also getting on M’s bedtime, so with no information forthcoming about when planes would actually start moving, we headed home empty handed and sent V out later to collect my mum –after she was finally released.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Debate on Postal Strike legislation

The lights are on late in the House of Commons tonight as politicians debate the back-to-work legislation tabled by Conservative Labour Minister, Lisa Raitt. At 10:20 a CBC blogger reports that there are 5 Tory MPs still present, 21 NDPs, 4 Liberals and 1 Elizabeth May.... I’m almost tempted to turn on CPAC.

But to be honest, I don’t understand the ins and outs of this and don’t know how union negotiations work. Why was it the union first initiating rotating strikes, but then the Crown Corporation that locked them out? Why does the back-to-work legislation give union workers a worse deal than that which was offered at the bargaining table? What exactly is at stake if Parliament approves this Bill? Why the filibustering tonight, don’t the Conservatives have a majority that can force anything through?

So many questions. And while I am curious to know the answers, I admit that I’m not quite curious enough to stay up all night researching them. The call of CPAC is not as strong as my pillow.

But I have a feeling that this issue is bigger than we think it is. There must be some politicking going on here – and certainly our new opposition NDP probably feels a significant amount of pressure to come out strong in support of Unions. The Conservatives may think it’s better to come down with a heavy hand and get rid of the problem – gambling that a couple days of grumbling or criticism wouldn’t hurt them as much as a prolonged strike which is already taking a significant toll on mail order businesses and remote communities (oh and brides-to-be, their ‘plight’ seems to come up regularly when I hear this issue debated. How will they get their RSVPs???).

And seeing as I don’t understand this whole issue very well, I am not sure where I stand. Admittedly, I would love to have postal service again. There is a sticker-exchange club that I’ve signed Miya up for which is post-dependent. There are grandparents and a 102 year-old great-grandma to send artwork and photos too. But as much as I don’t understand it all, my lefty-gut says support the unions...

I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Home renos + cats

My mother is coming to visit this weekend, which has been a good incentive to try to finish some home reno projects. So I’ve been mudding and taping drywall, sanding, painting, washing and tidying.

But the cats conspire against me. Well, one in particular.

Bogey, our male cat is not very bright. He’s a cute pet and has some funny little quirks, but a few kibbles short. Often when he sees a strange cat in our backyard, he will attack our female cat, Bacall – especially if it happens to be the cat that looks much like her.

What could possibly be going through that small cat head of his? She is outside and she is inside too!! I must attack!!

It makes no sense to me. And poor Bacall is likely even more confused.

Last night at 4 a.m. we woke to hear cat shrieks and cries. Bogey must have seen something outside that upset him because he began viciously attacking Bacall. Poor thing did the submissive thing of pooping and peeing all over the sun room.
So the paint had barely dried on the walls and already they are stuck with cat fur and pee splatters.

And as I relayed earlier, my attempts to get Bogey to stop peeing in the basement - in hope of having a not quite so stinky ‘guest room’ for my mother – incited Bacall to start peeing upstairs. However, we turned off the Ssscat and Bacall has been appeased. Bogey seems to still be scared to go in the pee spot, so perhaps we’ve made some small progress after all.

Still, trying to get a house in order when there is a toddler to look after and two cats to wreck havoc… well, it’s not easy.

But I should mention that my daughter does like to help out with some of the home reno projects – especially building things. She’s watched me assemble two small pieces of furniture lately: a small bookshelf and a storage chest. Today she learned how to turn the allen key to tighten some screws.

So I guess I shouldn’t fret too much about the home renos – our daughter will be taking over in no time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (finale)

“Have you thought about your rights?” Robert Peterson asked John and Murielle. He was seated at their dining room table one Monday afternoon, surrounded by officious looking forms.

“My rights?” John asked, staring dumbfounded at the lawyer. With his hair slicked down, clothed in an unmiraculous dress shirt, John looked much like an overgrown school boy.

“The rights to that Jesus shirt.”

Robert Peterson had no faith of his own. He believed Jesus had visited John Lundstom’s dress shirt as much as he believed pigs could fly – but this was the most interesting case of property rights he had come across in 34 years of small-town practice and he wasn’t going to let it slip by.

“I never thought about rights,” John mumbled. “I guess it’s my shirt, but I don’t think I can rightly stake a claim on any miracle.”

Murielle shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

“Yes, it is your shirt,” Robert Peterson said, speaking slowly and carefully in the way he had when dealing with farmers. “But you should think about legalizing your rights to the image, that picture of Christ. What if someone decides to make a copy of it and started selling that?” he asked. “They would be making money off your miracle. That’s not right.”

John and Murielle were not easily convinced. John felt there was something sacrilegious about claiming property rights on a miracle; Murielle did not welcome scrutiny. But Peterson was persistent and not only secured their rights for the image, but a significant percentage of profits for himself.

Peterson’s sister-in-law took a photo of the shirt and had postcards made up in the city. They sold for 50 cents at the church, in Peterson’s office and at Betty’s Sears outlet - where she advertised the miracle shirt as available in her catalogue and watched her business grow. Betty wondered how Murielle had got the image of Jesus onto the shirt. If they had been better friends she would have asked. She didn’t believe for a minute it had been a miracle; but she decided Murielle was a smarter cookie than anyone gave her credit for. Everyone knew that since the miracle John had stopped hitting his wife.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part vi)

Whether or not the congregation believed Father Michael’s less than convincing presentation of the miracle shirt, curiosity proved to be as good as faith for improving a church attendance. People who hadn’t darkened a church door in years began attending services in the following weeks. Word of the miracle had spread like wildfire. Business was booming at the Sears outlet and Murielle had never done so much entertaining in her life.

Friends and distance acquaintances were suddenly making excuses to drop by the Lundstrom farmhouse for visits at all hours of the day. While she served coffee in her musty living room, Murielle could see her guests peering around the house, as if expecting Jesus or a saint to suddenly appear. With all this close examination, she became very conscientious about her house cleaning. The baseboards have never been cleaner. The curtains never before pressed.

Murielle also had to make three pots of coffee each day and at first spent a good deal of time baking squares or cookies so she would have something to offer. But many ladies came bearing plates of home baking, so soon she no longer had to make anything herself. She offered up one lady’s home baking to the next, cleared space in her freezer and began regularly taking leftovers to the old folks’ home on Preston Street.

She and John had agreed that they would say the shirt was discovered with its strange marking when Murielle brought it in off the clothesline. But neither of them was very good at lying, so the story came out a little different each time. Still, their fumbled retelling only served to turn the story into a myth and overtime everyone had their own version to believe in.

Two weeks after the shirt had been on display at church, Murielle went into her backyard to take the clothes off the line and found a woman rifling through her laundry. The woman was shamefaced but also defiant. She admitted she was looking for another image of Jesus. “Or maybe of Mary,” she said wistfully. “I would really love to see Mary.”

When Murielle was folding the laundry later, she noticed a sock was missing.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part v)

Father Michael felt a sick nausea of fear rising from his stomach. Sweat began to bead on his forehead. But he fought to keep a calm authority in his voice. Reaching out to the shirt, he traced his long finger over the brow, the nose line, the shadow of lips – desperately praying that the others would see what he did.

When he heard the first murmur of ‘I see it,’ he nearly shouted with relief. He knew his credibility had been dangling like the shirt. Aware he still had but a small window to convince the whole congregation, he declared in what he hoped was an assured and generous tone that they could file past and see for themselves this image of their Lord.

Hesitant but curious, the congregation rose and came forward. One by one, they stood before the hanging shirt, squinting and tipping their heads until they were satisfied enough to move on. Upon resuming their seats, they immediately began whispering with their neighbours. Mureille did her best to ignore them. When it was her turn in front of the shirt, she paused as if considering the miracle. Really she was regretting that she hadn't finished ironing the front before burning the back.

When it was Betty Miller’s turn, she studied the shirt for a few minutes then exclaimed out loud, “Why that’s John Lundstrom’s shirt! I ordered it for him myself.” Betty Miller worked at the Sears outlet and took all the catalogue orders.

Betty’s declaration spread along the line of viewers and into the pews. All eyes turned to Murielle and John.

Murielle’s face flushed a deep red. She had told the priest she preferred not to be mentioned in connection to the shirt. Though she had been coming to church each Sunday for the five years she’d been married to John, she would never be Catholic born and bred and she had never felt fully accepted here. She did not think this miracle would be her ticket in. Unlike Father Michael, she had fully expected that the congregation would need some convincing - and if it was judged false, she didn’t want anyone to think this had been her idea.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Parade!

As soon as I woke up this morning a list of things to do started running through my head. Get the coffee, pack the noise makers, check if the bubble machines work... Today was parade day.

There was a lot of last minute rushing around this morning – and last night there’d been a late trip to Walmart to exchange a broken bubble machine – but with help from V and a great co-organizer, we had everything ready before 10.

V was at our destination park, waiting with coffee, lemonade and baked goods for a bake sale. M and I headed off to the starting point. The weather was perfect – couldn’t have asked for a better day.

M and I met a couple of families on the way over, which gave me hope that we would not be the only ones to show up. A reporter from the local community paper was waiting when we arrived. She asked me how many I expected and I said honestly that I had no idea. At this point we were about 10 and I was worried that might be all.

But I shouldn’t have worried. We have such a great community and word of the parade had gone viral on several different networks – and by word of mouth. There were probably 60 or more people who turned out – young and old.

Two guys from a local band led the parade – setting a great marching rhythm on various drums. People had been encouraged to dress fun and bring noise makers – so there were whistles, rattles, kazoos, cow bells, recorders... a great sound. There were also the requisite girls dressed as princesses and fairies and boys in super hero costume. M and I went with a beach theme and she wore a giant straw hat and a purple lei.

We got the park and our little bake sale was swarmed by hungry kids. Many people gave above the suggested price and we managed to raise $200 for the community’s OMB appeal.

What a fun morning. Love this community.

p.s. I hope to be able to add some pictures from friends to this blog soon. Here’s a link to a video someone made.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part iv)

While studying in seminary, Father Michael had been involved in a small drama troupe which put on plays at Easter and Christmas. His sense of dramatic flair was revived as he imagined how best to present this miracle shirt. He couldn’t be too flashy or the shirt would be overshadowed. But to drape the shirt over a chair wouldn’t do either. In the end he decided to rig a clothes line pulley behind the altar so that when the time came to unveil the miracle the shirt would glide out of the alcoves, like an angel alighting in their midst.

A week later, after tantalizing the congregation with hints and suggestions for the better part of his service, Father Michael gave a nod to young Bobby Miller in the wings, who began to reel out the line. The shirt jerked into view, swaying and twisting with Bobby’s every tug. It turned on itself so that Father Michael had to go over and straighten it, stretching it out so the burn was clearly visible.

A puzzled hush fell over the church and Murielle could hear wasps buzzing angrily against the window panes, battering themselves against the glass like maddened prisoners. Everyone was waiting. Some wondered if Jesus would appear, wearing this stained shirt. Others wondered if the shirt would turn into a pair of wings. A couple of women hoped it would take itself off the line and fold into a laundry basket - that would be a miracle worth believing in. Old lady Pearl wondered why the priest was showing his dirty laundry in the middle of service.

Seeing blank faces and puzzled eyes, Father Michael realized he must explain. “It’s the image of Christ,” he said, in as much of an authoritative tone as he could muster.

The faces still looked puzzled and Father Michael sensed an undercurrent of anger, like that of petulant children who have been promised a treat that does not materialize. Quickly, fighting to keep the whine of anxiety from his voice, the pale priest explained this was the face of Christ, here on the shirt. There was still no reply, only sceptical silence and the insistent buzzing of wasps.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part iii)

On Sunday, Father Michael told his congregation that the Lord had visited a home in their parish and left a sign of his presence. Murmurs rustled through the pews. This could be the most exciting thing since old lady Pearl was mistakenly thought to have died. Phone calls were being made to family members when Pearl sat up in bed and demanded a glass of water. She was sitting in the front row today, although she hadn’t heard a word Father Michael said since she’d been stone deaf since that brush with death.

“A miracle has visited the parish of Ross Creek,” Father Michael declared and the word ‘miracle’ seemed to reverberate from the church walls. “Next Sunday a special mass will be held and you will all be witnesses.”

Father Michael stood in the doorway after mass shaking hands as people filed past. No one talked about the weather or inquired after his health. They wanted to know what the miracle was and whose home was ‘visited’. But the priest, grinning like the Cheshire cat, told them to wait for next Sunday. He wanted to keep them guessing. He also wanted them to come back.

Murielle didn’t ask any questions when she filed past the priest. She was busy wondering how her husband’s shirt would be presented and if it mattered that the armpits were stained.

The question of presentation was discussed over tea the next day. Father Michael sat perched on the edge of John and Murielle’s faded, floral-patterned sofa, holding his saucer with his left hand, the tea-cup delicately in his right. “It should really be displayed in a glass case,” he said.

Murielle imagined the shirt hanging behind glass like new clothes on display in the Sears window on Main.

“There probably isn’t time though,” the priest added sadly.

He wanted to do this right, but he didn’t want to wait too long and lose interest from his unruly flock. He had been praying for a miracle to bless his struggling ministry for more than 15 years. This was not what he had expected, but he was prepared to make do with what he was given. Who was he to question?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

2011 Federal Budget

I’m a bit late in blogging about this, since I’ve been trying to make sense of it – but here are some comments on the June 6 Federal Budget, with special attention to justice and public safety. (As an aside, if you want to see some hilariously bad photo editing, take a look at the cover of the Throne Speech.)

This budget was much the same as the one the Conservatives unsuccessfully tabled in May. They trotted it out again post-election and their majority passed it.

While you might expect me to be completely critical, I will say that the promised $20-million over the next two years for youth crime prevention programs could be a step in the right direction. Although this allocation is primarily targeted for youth at risk of gang involvement, hopefully it will support community-led initiatives that provide restorative, holistic responses to many at-risk youth.

The budget also allocates $26-million for victim services with an aim to “promote access to justice and participation by victims in the justice system.” Apparently there is some lack of clarity here, since the text of the budget says this $26-million is going to the Federal Victims’ Ombudsman, but the details of the budget show the funds to be distributed among other offices and departments. It would be good to see more support for victims, but I hope this is not just lip service, as some of the previous Conservatives initiatives seem to have been.

One of the reasons I didn’t write about the budget earlier was that I was trying to find out why there was nothing in the budget addressing the price tag on the crime omnibus bill that is expected to be tabled soon. This bill will be made up of 10 or more pieces of law and order legislation that weren’t passed during the previous session. The government has been very reluctant to come forward with the costs of all this ‘tough on crime’ legislation – indeed, their refusal to do so is what brought their last government down.

So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s not addressed in the budget. The costs will be revealed only after it’s too late to stop it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part ii)

John was Catholic, devout in a childish, clumsy way. Insistent on their weekly church attendance, he kneeled in reverence and took communion directly into his open mouth, not the way Murielle did - holding out her hands so she could feed herself. She didn’t believe it was the body of Christ anyway since she saw the wafer crackers for sale at the Bible Bookstore on Fifth Avenue and she knew for a fact that Father Michael drank off the rest of the wine each Sunday after mass.

On John’s request, Father Michael came to their house and confirmed that the burn was indeed the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He too made the sign of the cross - over himself and over the shirt Murielle had draped over a kitchen chair. Before the priest arrived she had tried various ways of presenting the shirt: on a hanger, on a coat hook, or folded on the table. Nothing looked right. When she heard his car pull into the yard she’d quickly tossed it over a chair.

“The Lord has blessed this house,” Father Michael said. He felt a rush of excitement, of envy.

Murielle looked from the shirt to the cracked linoleum, the sagging ceiling and around the rest of the ramshackle house that wore years of neglect. The windows were dull, the roof leaked; the yellow and pink wallpaper was peeling. She looked again at the burnt shirt and sighed.

But John was breathless with agreement. He and Father Michael stood side by side with the shirt reflecting in their eyes. Father Michael was dressed in black, the thin white clerical collar tightly wrapped around his neck. His hands and face were pale; the skin under his eyes a consumptive yellow. His chest was like a birdcage. John, towering above him, had a torso like an oil drum. He wore a checkered flannel shirt, faded blue jeans and old boots. His neck was thick and red with wiry, rust-coloured hairs extending up into a dense thatch on his head and down into a thick coat on his muscular back.

“This is a sign,” Father Michael said.

“A sign,” John repeated.

“A sign,” Murielle sighed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Planning a parade

A good friend of mine is event coordinator extraordinaire. She organizes multiple events throughout the year – rain, snow or sun – with artists, musicians, community groups and more. She puts on concerts, festivals, farmers markets, public art displays, outdoor curling bonspiels... Makes me often wish that I lived in Kitchener/Waterloo.

I, however, am not an event coordinator. For starters, I am an introvert. I don’t think anti-social people make good social planners. For second, I do not have a mind for the details. Carrying off a good event means managing all the 101 little details – 98 of which I am likely to forget about/be unaware of.

But sometimes my impulsiveness gets the best of me and I recently found myself suggesting that I organize an event. And then, since I wanted it to be a success, I told people about it and encouraged them to tell others. And before I knew it I have an event on my hands that I am now racing to coordinate. Again, I wish I lived in K/W and could tap in the genius of my friend. She would know what to do.

It was so simple to being with: have a parade.

The idea had been circulating in my head for awhile – planted by an episode of Sesame Street (and Elmo’s ‘little furry red monster parade’) and a trip to the Children’s Museum at Easter in which M and I happened to get swept up in a bunny parade – something she still talks about. Why not organize a parade in our little neighbourhood?

Then there’s been all this business of the community fighting for the park and pathway that’s across the street from our house. We’ve managed to stop the developers from cutting through our pathway, but the battle continues to get the developers to be reasonable about height and density. So why not make the parade a celebration of our pathway and a fundraiser for the community OMB appeal?

Then we need something happening at our arrival destination. Bubble party perhaps?

And then perhaps a bake sale/coffee/lemonade to tie into fundraising for the appeal?

This could either go very well and be great fun, or be a humiliating disaster.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Short story: Miracle Shirt (part i)

It’s been a weekend full of bbqs and hanging out in the backyard. Great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, but at the end of the weekend I’m feeling rather uninspired about writing.

So once again I’m going to re-work an old story I’ve written – this one being a rather tongue-in-cheek take on a modern ‘miracle’.



Murielle had heard the Lord works in mysterious ways. She just never thought he’d use one of her appliances.

Distracted for a moment while ironing, she suddenly smelled burning. Snatching the iron off her husband’s white shirt, she discovered a bold burn between the shoulders. It was as wide as the iron, crisp and brown, pockmarked with steam holes.

This was John’s best shirt and Murielle was sick about what he’d do when he saw it. Her husband had a temper that was quick as a prairie fire; it flared up and roared at the slightest spark. But when John saw the shirt instead of burning red, he turned pale.

“Jesus,” he whispered and Murielle held her breath. But his thick hand didn't lift to strike - instead it made the sign of the cross. “It’s Jesus,” he said in a voice tight with fear and awe.
It took a few seconds for Murielle to understand what John was getting at. He just kept staring that shirt she held before him, his mouth gaping half open.

She turned the shirt around and held it at arm’s length, squinting at it through her wire-rimmed glasses. Closing one eye, she could make out brow-like arches along the top, an angular line cutting through the centre, a thin curve along the bottom. It still looked like a burn to her; but if John saw Jesus, and seeing Jesus kept him from losing his temper, she wasn't about to argue.

“Sure, okay,” she said hesitantly, casting a wary eye at her husband. She wondered if he wasn’t playing with her - like a barn cat with a mouse - but he was crossing himself again with shaking hands.

“This is a miracle, Murielle,” John said.

“A miracle?”

“Well how the hell else would Jesus get himself on my clothes?”

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cats 1, Ssscat 0

Before we had a baby, I would spend a lot of time working in my home office and Bogey, our male cat, would sit on my lap or on the floor near my feet. After Miya was born he would sit outside our bedroom door and glower at me, apparently jealous. It was months before he’d sit on my lap again.

We didn’t notice at first, but soon it became apparent that his protests weren’t limited to evil looks – he was also peeing in the basement, usually on places where the concrete has been exposed during our renovations.

We’d clean it up, only find more pee a few days later. Horrible smell.

I asked advice from our always helpful local pet food store and they suggested putting his food dish near where he was peeing, since most cats won’t pee near where they eat.

Well, no such luck with this guy. He has no qualms about urinating inches away from his food dish. We tried ‘urine-off’ to remove the smell, but still more pee.

So last time I was the pet food store, I asked for any other suggestions for stopping a cat from peeing outside the litter box. The girl suggested ‘Ssscat’ – a device that uses a motion sensor to trigger a strong puff of air. Cats hate the sound and the air in their faces, so this little canister can effectively keep cats away from plants, rooms, pee-spots etc.

I brought it home and set it up near Bogey’s favourite pee-spot, curious to see what would happen.

It was other cat, the wily female Bacall, who first triggered it. She leapt back and warily watched it from a distance, obviously displeased. I never actually saw Bogey trigger it, but it’s obvious that he is afraid of it since we now have to coax him downstairs to where his food dish is.

So far, there has been no pee from Bogey in the protected zone. Unfortunately, Bacall seems to be stressed by this device and has now started protest peeing upstairs – on M’s laundry bag, on my book bag!

So tonight the device is off. We are not faring well in this pee battle.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer hours

After a few days of record-breaking heat, it was a welcome relief today when temperatures stayed under 20 degrees – even though I’d invited a couple of Miya’s little friends (and parents) over for a paddling pool party and bbq.

Tonight there’s a cool breeze blowing through our open windows, carrying with it the music of outdoor concerts that are part of a local street festival. It sounds like summer, but the cool remnants of spring in the air are refreshing.

It must be something about being in a northern climate – as the days grow longer, we want to make the most of them. The long hours of sunlight seem to cry out to be filled with activity. In the dead of winter, when it's dark by the time you get home from work, it seems fitting to want to curl up with a bowl of stew and a good movie. But in the summer, well that is when we should be outside soaking up every last ray of the late-setting sun.

It is always a bit of an adjustment for me when I travel to or live somewhere close to the equator. In Canada, we associate warm days with long days, warm night with nights where the sun still lingers on the horizon late into the evening. But the closer you get to the equator, the more likely the sun is to set at the same time, no matter the season. It feels strange at first to experience hot, humid evenings that have little more sunlight than winter nights.

I remember the first few months of Miya’s life, when sleep was intermittent and broken. I was grateful for the long summer hours of daylight. Getting up at 5 a.m. didn’t seem quite so bad when the sun was already up too.

And this evening, even though the air was too cool for the paddling pool to be much of a success, it was still lovely to sit around with friends outside, eating dinner and playing with our kids. The sun wasn’t even thinking about setting before the party broke up in time to take kiddies in for bed. The long days of summer have begun.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

just like a knitted flag...

There’s a gazebo in our local park whose circumference is approximately 42 feet.

Tonight my friend and I were out measuring the gazebo. We wanted to see how much more knitting we have to do.

We’re making knitted flags for our park – a park that already has fantastic community engagement and is decorated with paintings and flowers. Adding a bit knit graffiti seems perfectly appropriate.

My friend’s been working on flags since Christmas, teaching herself to knit by experimenting on these little colourful triangles. (A great way to learn!) We measured her flags tonight and she has a little over 12 feet so far. I have almost 8 feet of flags (each one being about 7 inches wide). So we’re not quite halfway there.

I’m organizing a kids’ parade for June 18th. We’re going to walk along the pathway that the community has been fighting so hard to protect and end up in the park for a bubble party. There will be lots of music and bubbles and community fun – so if you live in Ottawa I hope you will join us – and it would be nice to have our flags up for the event. But that means we have some serious knitting to do before the 18th – or just we hang up what we have and finish the circle over the summer.

It’s fun to have another knit graffiti project to be working on – and great to have a co-conspirator. In the summer knitting projects aren’t quite as obvious as they are once the weather is colder and mitts, scarves, hats and sweaters are in demand. But knitting up colourful little flags with scraps of yarn lets me keep my needles clicking away merrily.

In the photo you can see Bogey, our cat, guarding one of my flags. Our cats are great fans of my knitting, (although Bogey’s affections sometimes go a little too far with the door worm I made for M’s room). If I forget to put away my knitting at the end of the night we’ll often find a trail of yarn leading through the chair legs, down the stairs, around corners, under furniture...
Endless fun to be had with yarn.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Cross-Country Bookshelf

Although I currently have several books on the go, whenever I come to the end of one, I usually start looking around for another one or two to pick up. My bedside table feels bare without at least 3 books I’m the process of reading.

If anyone else is looking for something to read (even better if you happen to be a CBC fan like me), you might be interested in CBC’s ‘Cross-Country Bookshelf’ project. The project has the goal of “building a literary map of Canada” by asking book lovers across the country to answer the question: “What books do you really need to read to understand my home?”

CBC panels chose 10 books each for 9 different regions and now Canadians can vote for the five must reads of each region. Votes can be cast from anywhere in Canada – meaning you don’t have to live in a region to vote for that region’s books. If you enter your votes by this coming Tuesday, June 14, you even have a chance to win a Kobo e-reader. (How is that for a shameless CBC plug?).

Of the nine regions on the CBC map, I have lived in three and visited another four (the only one I’m missing is Newfoundland and Labrador). My affinities lie deepest with Saskatchewan so I’m first curious about that list: Our Towns, by David McLennan, A Hunter’s Confession by David Carpenter, Wood Mountain Poems by Andrew Suknaski, Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden, Blood Upon our Lands by Maxine Trottier, Everett Baker’s Saskatchewan by Bill Waiser, Sour Milk by Jana G. Pruden and Barb Pacholik, The Art of Salvage by Leona Theis, Regina’s Secret Spaces ed. by Lorne Beug and For the Love of Strangers by Brenda Niskala.

I’m ashamed to admit I have read none of these books – although one is written by a former professor of mine. I look at the Ontario list and haven’t read any of these either – although at least I recognize more of the names. Whew, when I look at the Quebec list, at least I have read one of these books and again recognize some of the authors.

Geesh, gotta get reading!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Books: Little Princes

So I finished reading Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan.

Let me preface what I will write by saying that the non-profit founded by the author seems to be doing legitimate, on-going work in Nepal – building homes for trafficked children and working to reunite these children with their families. I want to be clear in acknowledging that there may be good, that lives may have been improved, by the work that Grennan and his colleagues have done and are doing.

That said, there’s still plenty in this book which absolutely infuriated me. For example, I read it cover to cover and yet rarely found accounts in which Greene sought the advice of, asked help from, did research on, consulted experts about, or basically acknowledged that there were likely many other people who knew more about the complexities and nuances of the problem he had decided he would solve. The book is about one man’s self-directed plan to address child trafficking in Nepal – and yet I was never convinced that this was a man who clearly understood the complexities of the problem or who thought through the ramifications of the ‘solutions’ he came up with.

The book builds to a climax in which Grennan travels in a remote region of Nepal to find the families of children who had been trafficked. But then the narrative derails into the recounting of his budding romance with an American woman and we never get a satisfactory account of what exactly happens to the families and the children. What was the fallout??

He also claims victory in having found the 24 families he sought during this trip, without really acknowledging that it was the 7 Nepali men guiding him who found each family – men who would trek up mountainsides while Grennan waited at the bottom, who would scour the villages while he dozed on the path. The arrogance of it all often made me want to toss the book down – and I certainly have ranted plenty in these last two blogs and in recent conversations.

I won’t carry on any more. At least it’s given me something to talk about.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Heroes and victims

I’ve been thinking more about the stuff I was writing about yesterday, about those that position themselves as heroes and saviours of others. The arrogance, the courage, the single-mindedness... there are plenty of things to admire, but a few to question as well.

I’ve been talking about this a lot with V and he said he worries that my idealism has been replaced by cynicism. I asked when I was ever idealistic and he reminded me that I used to be much more willing and eager to charge off on something.

I admit that I’ve often been impulsive. I accepted a job in Mali without knowing anything about the country or even where to find it on a map. I love traveling without a fixed destination, discovering as I go.

But at the same time, I think I’ve seen enough to have long lost any idealism I might have held about international work. Reading a book like Little Princes just reminds me of the risks of parachuting in to fix someone else’s problems and I get frustrated when complex inter-cultural relationships are portrayed in hero/victim roles.

When I was in Mali I struggled with my role as a foreign teacher. Sure I had some skills that could be useful to others, but there were hundreds of Malians with these skills, and more. My daily allocation of $10 was the equivalent of a good 2-week salary. Add on the money for my plane ticket, immunizations, visas, etc and basically my 5-month stint could likely have given a Malian a full-time job for a few years.

I asked a young man who had trained in IT what he thought of people like me coming to Mali to do jobs he was qualified for. He dropped his gaze and shrugged.

“Its complex here,” he said. “Because of your skin colour, people will listen to you. I could go in and say the same thing, but they wouldn’t respect me.”

So while I could say my presence enabled people to receive computer training, and acquire skills to complete in the world economy of high tech, on the other hand my presence disabled people him from assuming these same roles.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Reading Little Princes

I’m in the middle of a book called Little Princes, the story of a young American’s mission to save the lives of trafficked children in Nepal. V gave it to me as the April gift. I think he figured that my childhood in Nepal and experience with international NGOs would make this an interesting read.

It certainly has been, but I doubt in the ways that the author intended. Conor Grennan, the author and the founder of an NGO to help children in Nepal, embodies for me so much of what I find frustrating, confounding, challenging, admirable and appalling in people who position themselves as saviours to those less fortunate.

This guy had a vision and practically set about single-handedly making that vision reality. Commendable, sure. He rescued children. He defied odds. And, as he so often points out in his book, he “sacrificed” his comforts at home to improve the lives of others. It may also be indubitable that he made a very real difference in the lives of several children. And to top it off, he got a book deal out of it.

But from someone who has lived in so-called third-world countries, in my humble opinion, often the last thing that is needed is one more silo NGO. They are called silos because each NGO wants to stand alone on its mission to save the world, the children, the poor... These silos compete with each other for precious donor dollars and funding. They diligently, determinedly, strike out alone in the name of their ideals and lofty goals. And too often the ideals and goals were determined on the other side of the world from where they are being imposed.

I do believe that it takes people with vision and courage to make changes in the world. We need more people who are willing to sacrifice some personal comfort for a greater good. But at the same time, what I don’t think we need more of is people who want to charge off on their own course without first knowing the terrain.

I haven’t finished the book, so forgive me if I’m being too quick to judge. Just sometimes my blood starts boiling...

Saturday, June 04, 2011

To sleep, perchance to dream

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had vivid dreams – so much so that some days I will carry with me the emotion of a dream throughout the day. I’ve also been known to walk and talk in my sleep. Other times I’ll ask V a question which makes absolute sense to me in my half-awake state, but is utter nonsense to him. Usually I’ll fall back asleep while he is asking questions to try and make heads or tails out of what I’ve just said.

Today was a good day. Lots of playtime with my daughter, a visit with a friend, a much-needed mid-day nap, a family stroll, drinks in our back yard... but there is no particular aspect I can think to blog about. So I thought instead I’d write about a couple of odd dreams from last night – and this is mostly because I’m just plain stumped on what to blog about – not because I actually think these dreams are in anyway profound/significant etc. They are just odd, a bit like me.

For example, in one dream last night I was V’s 2nd wife and his very jealous 1st wife (by which I mean this was a polygamous marriage, not a second marriage following a divorce) came to visit. She had read rumours on the internet that I was frequenting a club call Temple 1239. I told her I had never been there and since hearing of the rumours made sure to go nowhere near it. I invited her to go with me and ask the staff if I was familiar to them. She then accused me of having a child by another man and produced a photo of me with a small red-haired boy. I asked how I could possibly have a red-haired child. The end. No sense what-so-ever.

In other dream, we were visiting my mother who had a large house with white carpeted stairs. Because she had a dog she’d put up gates around the stairs to keep the dog in certain areas – but the gates and the dog were only about 4 inches high. Why??

Time for bed and the world of strange dreams... Good night.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Social network

So tonight we ordered take-out and watched a movie. We don’t do that too often. Life is busy and it’s hard to remember to slow down.

The movie we watched didn’t really take me away from the hectic pace of it all, if anything it reminded me of that uncertain balance of pros and cons which makes up for much of our modern life.

We watched ‘The Social Network’ – the film about Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and CEO of Facebook. With an Oscar for best-adapted screenplay, the film was smart and well structured, weaving narratives of past and present, and managing to put a very personal dimension to what could have been a boring story about nerds.

But for someone who’s long been wondering the worth of staying on facebook, it probably wasn’t best to watch a movie that doesn’t exactly portray the founding of facebook in the best light. Should that matter? Probably not. And more to the point, should I trust a Hollywood adaption to form an opinion, no. But still, it waters the soil of my disenchantment with the social network.
Why do I dislike facebook?

It’s voyeurism, plain and simple. We want to peer into the lives of our friends, our colleagues, or high school classmates, our relatives. We look to see who’s single, who’s aging poorly, who’s having kids and who’s traveling the world... And I suspect much of this is done in the same spirit of gossip and note-passing that we were engaging in in junior high. This is not flattering.

I remember hearing that we, as humans, are programmed to put more weight on things we hear indirectly vs. things directly said to us. I thought then, and still believe, that this is one of the driving forces behind facebook. The fact that I can gather some tidbit of knowledge, be it ever so inconsequential, through something like seeing what someone writes on someone else’s wall, psychologically I give that tidbit more weight than if I had bumped into the person on the street and had the same fact relayed directly to me. What a strange species we are.

The whole thing is just weird. That’s my position.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Exploring Montessori

I took a tour of a local Montessori school today since we’re interested in signing up our daughter for their program starting September.

The Montessori approach is a fascinating combination of structure and freedom. The whole environment is designed to help little people do things for themselves. In the toddler room, the sinks, toilets, chairs, tables, shelves, etc. were all at toddler height. Things were similarly scaled in the ‘casa’ program upstairs for 3-6 year olds. I saw a little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, lift a glass water jug and pour herself a glass of water. After drinking, she took the glass to the sink, swished it around in soapy water, rinsed it in clear water, then set it on the rack to dry. The whole environment is set up to encourage independence and practical skills.

Montessori schools are based upon the philosophy and work of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. She opened her first school 100 years ago with the guiding philosophy that: "Knowledge can best be given when there is an eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child's mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into knowledge."

So there is a real focus on independent learning, on providing children with many opportunities for concrete exploration and development of practical skills.

While all this was easy to appreciate, I did find a little strange the absence of toys and the reference to ‘work periods’ in the toddler schedule. The clean, purposeful-focus of a Montessori classroom is polar opposite to many toddler play areas I’ve seen – and thankfully to the cluttered, commercialized environment of stores like Toys R Us.

I think M could do really well here. She’s a quiet kid who can get very involved and focused on her play/exploration (i.e. she’ll easily spend half an hour playing with dried beans). I like the program’s focus on independence, self-paced growth and social cooperation. I like that when I asked about discipline the director told me they control the environment, not the children.

But it will be an adjustment. My baby’s growing up.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Hot summer ahead

It’s only the first of June and summer’s already a scorcher.

According to Environment Canada, we’re in for one hot summer. And in Ontario it’s going to be a dry one too. We bought some rain barrels this spring – got to get them hooked up soon so as to make the most of any rainfall we do get and use it to water our garden.

When I was a kid I remember loving hot summer days. That was back when tanning was cool and my friends and I would live in the sun, turning steadily browner as summer went on and competitively comparing our tans. It was also when summers meant long days at swimming pools or by the river, staying up all night around campfires and listening to crickets through canvas tent walls late at night.

I must be getting old, because now summer seems to be about trying to find ways to stay cool, to avoid the heat of day and to find activities for a toddler that let her run around and get exercise without also getting heat stroke.

Yesterday afternoon, as the temperature hovered around 30˚, with a humidex adding a few more degrees, Miya and I stopped by the farm. I had hoped the barns might be a relatively cool place to run around in, but with the exception of one newly-renovated building, the barns were sticky with the hot summer air, the heat of the animals and the heavy smells of manure and feed. Many of the stalls were empty – likely the animals had been moved to cooler locales.

Today Miya seemed to have been overwhelmed by the heat and fell asleep before having dinner, almost 2 hours before her usual time. Poor little over-heated girl.

So yes, I may be old, but I’m going to be looking for ways to stay cool. I signed M and I up for a parents and tots swim class today. We will be making the most of our museum memberships too. (Although I did find some Canadian made, organic, zinc-based sunscreen today for those times we have to be in the sun.)

So summer is great, but surviving it can be challenge.